Flashback: Post-Graduates

June 10, 2012

The following Up the Valley column appeared in the St. Helena Star on June 23, 2011.  If you’ve read it before, I hope you’ll enjoy it again.  If it’s new to you, welcome to the conversation!

I moved last fall into a new house, two blocks from a local school that recently held its graduation ceremony. I shrewdly deduced this from “Pomp and Circumstance” blasting over the loudspeaker for days, interrupted briefly by ’80s songs, feedback and people blowing into the microphone. The Super Bowl A/V crew doesn’t take this long setting up.

Anyhoo, the whole specter of graduation filled me with nostalgia and regret. Regret that I did not open up a valet parking service and charge $5 to the hundreds of graduation attendees attempting to leave their cars on my street. And nostalgia for the many graduation ceremonies in which I participated without hearing a word of the commencement speeches. I was too busy mentally packing my bags and figuring out how to leave town as quickly as possible.

It made me wonder whether local graduates are anxious to depart St. Helena. Why would they be? This is a slacker’s paradise: warm enough to sleep outside, a dress code that virtually outlaws neckties, and a benevolent attitude toward public drinking.

So I performed some unscientific research: meaning I basically wandered around asking young-looking locals whether they were graduates. I think some of them said “yes” — the response consisted mostly of grunting, Footcandy designer shoe shuffling, low-slung pants–adjusting, gum-chewing and blank stares.

But when asked: “Do you plan to spend the rest of your life here?” their answers ran the entire gamut from “no” to “hell no.” Obviously, never having left, these unfortunates have failed to grasp the niceties of life here. So let me point out some advantages of never ever leaving St. Helena:

1. There are few distractions, so you can focus entirely on yourself. Attending the opera, theater, museums, jazz clubs and professional sporting events really cuts into your time for self-reflection.

2. Just think what you’ll save on gas by staying home.

3. If someone you meet at a local bar asks you out, you’ll be able to discover everything about them in under an hour, including their grades in grammar school, full details of their marital status, and any medications they are currently taking, by simply asking around.

4. People care less about the make of your car or the size of your house than they do in Los Angeles or Palo Alto. Same thing regarding the size of your bottom; try being a size 12 in New York.

5. The cops know you and your parents and are more likely to let you off with a warning, particularly if you observed the cop doing the same thing last night.

6. You’ll get invited to the cool events, so long as you have plenty of money or wine, or are related to or were ever married to or have a last name that sounds somewhat like someone who does.

7. Charm, courage or wisdom can equal the wine and money referenced in #6 above.

But what if you really want to stay, while your parents have packed up your room and scheduled the movers? Here’s what to do: At a brunch celebrating your graduation, before your parents’ mimosa buzz has worn off, announce in your sincerest tones: “If there’s one thing my education has taught me, it’s that I must stick to my principles and follow my heart.” This will elicit tearful applause and approval from the parentals. You’ll continue with: “Life is so short, and we don’t know how much time we have, and so I want to spend whatever time I have living as close to you wonderful people as possible.” Then hit them with: “And I feel it would be morally irresponsible for me to work in anything connected in any way to the production or consumption of alcohol.”

It isn’t irresponsible, of course, and you’ve consumed more alcohol in your young life than Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton combined, but they don’t know that. What you’ve done is to disqualify yourself, on moral grounds, from 99 percent of employment opportunities in the Napa Valley.

Now it’s time to “follow your heart” by announcing your life’s dream, which is anything unlikely to get you off your parents’ tax returns, such as: balloon-animal artist, tarot card reader, baseball park organist, Zamboni machine driver, or retailer.

As I see it, in these recessionary times the smart thing to do is to stay put, enjoy life more and worry less. So it’s not really your fault if they sent you to school and made you smart enough to want to stay here forever.

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